HealthCare Roundtable e-News – May 21, 2020

House COVID-19 Bill Faces Uphill Battle In GOP-led Senate

Last Friday (May 15), the House passed the HEROES Act. The bill’s $3 trillion price tag has been backed by House Democrats but many provisions have struggled to garner support from the GOP. Republicans have also opposed the bill’s lack of policy around federal funding of abortions.

The bill in its current form includes funding for states to expand testing, replenish the provider relief fund, give another bump to the federal Medicaid match rate, expand the FDA’s authority to secure the medical supply chain, and put a focus on nursing homes. It would also offer 100% subsidies for COBRA coverage and expand eligibility to workers who are still employed but have been furloughed. (InsideHealthPolicy)

The White House has publicly opposed the bill, citing that it would be open to negotiating with Congress some improvements to the bill. In a statement, the White House said, “When additional legislation is contemplated, it should include a payroll tax holiday, safe- harbor provisions to protect businesses from frivolous lawsuits, permitting reform to facilitate infrastructure projects, and other policies to spur our economic come back.” (InsideHealthPolicy)

While Senate Slows Next Stimulus Consideration, Sens. Cassidy, Menendez Seek State Funds

This week, Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) announced they would be introducing legislation to create a $500 billion fund for states and local governments. The fund, called the State and Municipal Aid for Recovery and Transition (SMART) Fund, will help support states and local governments by extending funding eligibility to counties and towns with populations of 50,000 or greater. Only counties and towns with populations of 500,000 or greater were eligible for funds in the original CARES Act. (InsideHealthPolicy)

The legislation follows the recent Democrat-backed House bill that was passed on Friday (May 15) and includes the $500 billion fund, following calls by the National Governors Association. The bill also includes $375 billion in funding for local governments and $20 billion in funding for tribal governments. Another $20 billion in funding would go to territories and an additional $755 million would go to the District of Columbia.

Some GOP Senators, including Finance Committee Chair Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) have expressed support for additional funding should it become necessary, but are more inclined to wait and see how the most recent COVID-19 relief packages perform over time. (InsideHealthPolicy)

Latest CMS Guidance Advises Nursing Homes to Test Residents, Staff Before Reopening

The Trump administration released a guidance on Tuesday (May 18) encouraging nursing homes and other long-term care facilities to test all residents and staff and enhance screening protocols before facilities begin to allow visitors. The guidance was released as many states continue to move forward with reopening businesses and look for ways to mitigate the risk of increasing COVID-19 cases.

In a memo, CMS noted that it is encouraging nursing homes to remain closed to visitors until a home’s local community sees declines in new cases, as well as no new cases in the home. Included in the guidance are additional factors for states and health officials to consider as the begin to reopen facilities; the number of new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the community and the number of new cases in nursing homes. (InsideHealthPolicy)

The agency advised that testing is the best solution moving forward. CMS Administrator Seema Verma said, “We think there’s sufficient testing capacity available in all states…from the federal level, we feel comfortable that there’s sufficient testing capacity across all states.” The nursing home lobby and American Health Care Association have been calling for more funding to expand testing efforts across the country, with AHCA asking the Congress for $10 billion in funding. AHCA has thanked CMS for their guidance, but commented that “vital long-term care facilities” will need more support from federal and local authorities. (InsideHealthPolicy)

State-Based Exchanges Continue to Extend Emergency COVID-19 Special Enrollment Periods

Six state-based exchanges across the U.S. will continue to allow all residents to enroll in comprehensive health coverage through a special enrollment period. All state exchanges and the federal exchange are accepting applications from people who qualify for any of the other existing special enrollment periods, and most of the exchanges have seen consumer interest in SEPs spike; so far, about 200,000 Americans have enrolled in coverage through the emergency COVID-19 SEPs offered by the states. (InsideHealthPolicy)

The District of Columbia is keeping its enrollment open through September 15 and California through June 30. Vermont, New York and Maryland will continue to enroll consumers through June 15, and the Massachusetts Health Connector’s emergency special enrollment period will run through May 25.

“The coronavirus pandemic has affected the health of about 39,000 Marylanders and counting. And while we’ve seen a large number of people enrolling, there are still hundreds of thousands of people in this state who are without coverage,” said the executive director of Maryland Health Benefit Exchange, Michele Eberle. “We want to make sure every person who needs and does not have health insurance knows it is available and gets it.”

The Trump administration refused to open the federal SEP last month, but CMS says that it is looking into providing leniency around document verification.

Drug Companies Address Realities of Meeting Global COVID-19 Drug Demand

While the world waits for coronavirus treatments and vaccines, drug company executives are seeking to set expectations on the realities of meeting global demand. Most are saying it will take years for potential COVID-19 drugs and vaccines, and countries already are vying for the drugs.

During a CNBC health symposium Tuesday, Regeneron CEO Leonard Schleifer and other pharmaceutical executives said multiple vaccine candidates must succeed to meet global demand because no one company can make enough for everyone.

“We simply cannot do this on an auction basis for whatever state or local company wants to pay to get access. We can’t do it that way, we’re going to need a rational approach. This is a role for governments,” Schleifer said during that event. (InsideHealthPolicy)

Moderna announced earlier this week that their vaccine saw successful results in eight test subjects. Despite the early success, Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel said even if all goes according to plan through each round of tests, the company won’t have enough vaccines for everyone right away.